Three men from Northern Ireland were lost
Following years of international rivalry involving the race to colonize Africa and the building of fleets to ensure naval supremacy guarding the trade routes which enhanced the economies of the colonising powers, the final events leading to the First World War were swift.
Within a week from the order mobilizing the Royal Navy, three men serving from Northern Ireland were to die on HMS Amphion, the first Royal Navy ship to be sunk in the war.
On Saturday, 1st. August, 1914, France mobilized. Germany also mobilized and declared war on Russia. The mobilization of the Royal Navy included the taking up of supplies and hospital ships, colliers and oilers. The following day, Sunday 2nd. August, Germany invaded Luxembourg. The mobilization of the Royal Fleet Reserve was ordered.
On Monday, The King of Belgium appealed for the preservation of Belgium’s neutrality. Germany declared war on France.
On Tuesday 4th, Britain protested against German violation of Belgian territory when Germany invaded Belgium early on that day. British mobilization was ordered and Britain was at war with Germany from midnight 4th. August 1914. Admiral Jellicoe took command of the Grand Fleet.
NORTHERN IRISH LOSS
On August 6th, Henry John Bennett, Joseph Lynch and Charles George McConachy from Northern Ireland lost their lives on HMS Amphion.
Henry John Bennett was from Culfeightrin, Torr Head. Joseph Lynch was born in Bright, Co. Down. Belfast born Charles George McConachy was a former pupil of Ballymena Academy, Co. Antrim. HMS Amphion was the first Royal Navy ship to be sunk in WW1. These men were the first fatalities from Northern Ireland. There were at least 14 Irish men in the crew.
Amphion was an Active class Scout cruiser, and part of the 3rd Flotilla which left the east coast port of Harwich on August 5 to carry out a sweep for submarines in the southern part of the North Sea. Around 10.25 am, Konigin Luise, a German holiday ferry converted for mine laying, which had left her home port of Emden on the night of 04/08/1914, was sighted. The flotilla had received reports from local fishing vessels of an unknown vessel throwing things over the side. At 1025 hrs, the destroyers Lance and Landrail were ordered to investigate. Konigin Luise altered course sand sailed into a squall where she began laying mines. She ignored a shot across her bows from Lance which is accredited with firing the first naval shots of World War 1.
A contemporary newspaper report stated, “Lance was the hero of Britain’ first naval engagement. She only fired four shots but they were all sufficient. The first shot destroyed the bridge and the third and fourth tore away her stern. She sank in six minutes. The British destroyer took the promptest measures to save those on board and 28 prisoners are now in Shotley naval barracks… Four have had legs shot away while two are armless. None of the crew of the Lance received any injuries.”
Konigin Luise under Commander Biermann was sunk before noon. 46 survivors of its crew of 100 were rescued and taken aboard Amphion.
Returning to Harwich the next day, Amphion changed course in the early hours to avoid the Southwold minefield off the Thames Estuary and by 6.30 am was assumed to be clear, but detonated a mine which wrecked the fore part of the ship, started a fire and broke her back. Almost immediately all the forward parts of the were on fire and it proved impossible to flood the fore magazine. The ship’s back appeared to be broken and by the time other destroyers closed in it was clearly time to abandon ship. Three minutes later the vessel exploded, debris falling on the rescue boats.
One of Amphion’s shells burst on the deck of HMS Lark, a destroyer, killing two men and a German prisoner rescued from the cruiser. After 15 minutes the Amphion had disappeared. 151 lives were lost, together with those of 19 of the 46 German sailors who had been rescued from the Konigin Luise.
The Ballymena Observer of 21st August 1914, carried this report –
The official press bureau on Wednesday afternoon issued the following:-
“3.30pm – at 9am on August 5th, HMS Amphion with the 3rd flotilla proceeded to carry out a certain pre-arranged plan of search and about an hour later a trawler informed them that she had seen a suspicious ship ‘throwing things overboard’ in an indicated position. Shortly afterwards the mine layer Konigen Luise was sighted steering east. Four destroyers gave chase and in about an hour’s time she was rounded up and sunk. After picking up survivors the search continued without incident till 3.30am when the Amphion was on the return course.
“At 6.30 am Amphion struck a mine. A sheet of flame instantly enveloped the bridge which rendered the Captain insensible and he fell on the fore and aft bridge. As soon as he recovered consciouness he ran to the engine room to stop the engines, which were still going at revolutions for 20 knots. As all the forepart was on fire, it proved impossible to reach the bridge or to flood the fore magazine. The ship’s back appeared to be broken and she was already settling by the bows.
“All efforts were therefore directed to placing the wounded in a place of safety in case of explosion and towards
getting her a tow by the stern. By the time destroyers closed in it was clearly time to abandon ship. The men fell in with composure and 20 minutes after the mine struck, the men, officers and captain left their ship.
“Three minutes later it exploded. Debris falling from a great height struck the rescue boats, destroyers and one of the Amphion’s shells burst on the deck of one of the latter killing two of the men and a German prisoner rescured from the cruiser. After 15 minutes the Amphion had disappeared.Captain Fox speaks in the highest terms of the behaviour of the men throughout.”
The bodies of four British and four German sailors were recovered together from the Thames estuary. Four coffins were covered with the Union Jack and four with the German ensign. All were given full naval honours and were buried together in a common grave at Shottley. (Report in Evening Post 11/08/1914).
Two brothers, Joseph, 28, and Thomas Hamlin, 23, died whilst serving on HMS Amphion. Sons of James and Viola Hamlin of Newton Abbot, Devon. The brothers have no known graves and are commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.
ON THAT DAY – ‘YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU’ CALL ISSUED
In Belgium – The morning’s telegrams suggest that both Liege and the forts may soon be in the hands of the Germans, the defence has succeeded in holding up two German army corps, and if sources are reliable there should, within a few days be fought a battle which may have a determining effect on the campaign.
500,000 more men – The House of Commons unanimously granted to the government a vote of credit for £100,000,000 and sanctioned an increase to the army by 500,000 men. Mr Asquith in commending to the House these unprecedented steps vindicated the policy and position of this country in a speech of extraordinary eloquence.
Call to Arms Lord Kitchener’s appeal – Lord Kitchener, Secretary for War issued the following appeal
“Your King and country need you, a call to arms.
“An addition of 100,000 men to His Majesty’s Regular Army are immediately necessary in the present grave national emergency. Lord Kitchener is confident that this appeal will be at once responded to by all those who have the safety of the Empire at heart. Terms of Service General service for a period of three years or until war is concluded age of enlistment between 19 and 80.”
In 2014 a mass was held at the Irish Naval Service base at Haulbowline, Cork Harbour, in remembrance of the seven Cork men who died serving in Amphion. Due to the efforts of Fr. Ivan Tonge, a plaque was erected in memory of Joseph Pierce Murphy behind St Patrick’s Church, Thomcastle Street, near to his home in Ringsend, Dublin.
IRISH SURVIVOR AWARDED VICTORIA CROSS IN WORLD WAR II
One of the midshipmen saved from HMS ‘Amphion’ was young Stephen Fogarty Fegen, of Tipperary. Twenty-five years later, in 1940, while skippering HMS ‘Jervis Bay’ he ordered a suicidal assault on the German pocket battleship ‘Admiral Scheer’ in defence of the convoy he was escorting.
He and his vessel perished in the process. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
BENNETT SISTER A FATALITY
In World War II Charles McConachy’s sister Ethel joined the Malayan Nursing Service. She died when SS Tanjong Pinang was sunk by a Japanese submarine in February 1942. The ship had just picked up survivors of another ship, SS Kuala, off the Indonesian island of Banka.
HMS AMPHION ROLL OF HONOUR
+BENNETT, Henry John
RN. ERA I. 269426. LS & GC Medal. HMS Amphion. Died 06/08/1914. Aged 36 years. Born Belfast 11/07/1889. Culfeightrin, Torr Head
Petty Officer 2nd Class. 160591. HMS Amphion. Died 06/08/1914. Age 39. Born Bright, Co Down. Son of John Patrick and Hannah Lynch, Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork. Plymouth Naval Memorial.
+McCONACHY, Charles George
RN. AB. 234602. HMS Amphion. Died 06/08/1914. Aged 25. Born Belfast, he attended Ballymena Academy. His first ship when he joined the service was HMS Queen Mary. Son of David and Margaret McConachy, of Strath House, Dungiven. Plymouth Naval Memorial. Limavady WM. Boveva – PCI RH